Tuesday, July 9, 2013

#693: "Sitting on the beach like Clarence in Wonderland...."

Hey, Kevin Ayers died back in February, he was almost 70 years old. Ghod, I used to be so ON TOP of this stuff, what the hell happened...?
Founder-member of Soft Machine, longtime eccentric solo artist, ol' deep-smooth-voice Kevin Ayers left a mark on my life with his mid-'70s album of singles & outtakes, ODD DITTIES, which I used to sing-along-with huge sections of back in my Silly Period (Summer '78) while sharing an apartment with old buddies Don Vincent and Jeff Mann.
Even back then I remember being mildly disappointed with ODD DITTIES because it wasn't more "Canterbury-sound"-like, was way closer to the Incredible String Band than to Soft Machine or Caravan.
But I bought the album based on Ayers' reputation & because there were a LOT of talented folks on it: Guitarists Mike Oldfield & Steve Hillage, keyboardist/composer Dave Bedford, improvising saxophonist Lol Coxhill, almost all of the members of Caravan, almost all of Soft Machine on the silly singalong "Soon Soon Soon," still one of my favorites (it opens with the line "What do you know about Nothing, people?" Where do you go from there?) -- & Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd allegedly played guitar on "Singing a Song in the Morning."
But once I got comfortable with the record & Ayers' whimsical lighter-than-air outlook, there was some great stuff inside: "Butterfly Dance" was 2 songs squoze together -- one a moody ballad; the last half a joyous rocker; "Gemini Child" was a nice mid-tempo rocker, fairly straight-ahead for Ayers; there was the eerie, atmospheric "Lady Rachel;" and the French smoochers "Puis-je?" ("May I?") & "Jolie Madame," in which it became obvious that the laid-back Ayers could have seduced millions of women with just his voice.
But best of all was the goofy "Connie on a Rubber Band," with its silly lyrics, bouncy tune and catchy choruses -- apparently I used to sing it to myself a lot: "Let's go ... to my chateau...."
From this start, I tried some of Ayers' other work but was unable to get into it. THE CONFESSIONS OF DOCTOR DREAM was his most acclaimed album, & included a heavily-produced side-long title song, but I don't remember a thing about it now -- except that it didn't grab me.
Never heard any of Ayers' later, allegedly more commercial work with guitarist Ollie Halsall. Have never heard "Decadence," which is supposedly a less-than-nice portrait of doomy singer & former Velvet Underground vocalist Nico.
Ayers' Wikipedia page has some interesting details about his life -- including a story about how Ayers, Nico, John Cale & Brian Eno's live album JUNE 1, 1974 was a little more dramatic than intended, since Cale had discovered Ayers sleeping with Cale's wife the night before the concert. Maybe another woman had fallen for ol' deep-smooth-voice?
I STUPIDLY sold-off my copy of ODD DITTIES about a decade back because I hardly ever listened to it anymore. (Five pretty-great songs out of 16? Those old Harvest Heritage import albums were really pretty generous....) Vinyl copies will now run you $40 at Amazon.com -- & the CD could cost you even more.
But there are times I miss it -- like when my old high school sweetheart dropped me an e-mail this morning about Ayers' "Connie on a Rubber Band." She remembered me singing along with the silly lyrics 35 years ago -- but she couldn't remember who sang the song or where she could find it.
There are several Ayers best-of's available -- including a cheap single-disc that includes half of ODD DITTIES -- & a number called "Clarence in Wonderland" that could actually be "Connie" in disguise. I hope to get a copy of this soon so I can clear up this mystery....
On the other hand, Ayers probably would have liked the confusion....

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